This Day. A reflection on Amílcar Cabral, Portugal and NATO


Amílcar Cabral (1924-1973)


Originally published on January 20, 2019 on this blog and Stop Foreign Intervention in Africa , a website organized by activists opposed to foreign intervention in Africa on a military, economic, political and cultural level. 

On January 20, 1973, Amílcar Lopes da Costa Cabral, leader of the national liberation movement in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde in West Africa, was assassinated, just months before Guinea Bissau won its long independence struggle against Portuguese colonialism.

Guinea-Bissau was once part of the kingdom of Gabu, part of the ancient Mali Empire; parts of this kingdom persisted until the 18th century. Other parts of the territory in the current country were considered by the Portuguese as part of their empire. Portuguese Guinea was known as the Slave Coast, as it was a major area for the exportation of African slaves by Europeans to the western hemisphere.

guinea-bissau_-_location_map_(2013)_-_gnb_-_unocha.svgFor 500 years, Portuguese colonialism was built upon the slave trade and the systematic pillaging of its African colonies: Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome e Principe, Angola and Cape Verde. Historian Walter Rodney summarized Portuguese’s colonial rule in Africa: “The Portuguese stand out because they boasted the most and did the least. After close to half a thousand years not a single medical doctor had been trained in Portuguese Mozambique. As for Guinea Bissau, Portugal confessed open neglect of this territory.”

I. The life and work of Amílcar Cabral

Amílcar Cabral was a man of thought and action. His passion for life was fuelled by his people and homeland which gave rise to the mission of his life: emancipation from the chains of colonial and capitalist exploitation and degradation. He seems to have been a wonderful human being. A broad and generous smile was his signature.

Amílcar was born in Bafatá, Guinea-Bissau, to Cape Verdean parents in 1924. He was the son of Juvenal Lopez Cabral, a schoolteacher and anti-colonial activist, and Iva Pinhel Evora, a seamstress and labourer in a fish supplying factory. At the age of eight, his family moved back to the Cape Verdean Islands, where he excelled as a student and poet.

He was educated at Liceu (Secondary School) Gil Eanes in the town of Mindelo, Cape Verde, and later at the Instituto Superior de Agronomia, in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. While an agronomy student, he founded student movements such as the African Studies Center in 1948 in Lisbon dedicated to opposing the ruling dictatorship of Portugal and promoting the cause of independence for the Portuguese colonies in Africa: Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau/Cape Verde. Amílcar met “people like Agostinho Neto and Eduardo Mondlane, who would go on to lead the revolutionary movements in Angola and Mozambique respectively. In Portugal, his fellow African students introduced him to socialist ideology, and they spent much of their time studying, discussing and strategising: how to end colonial domination of their homelands? How to empower the people? How to inspire the broad masses of the people to engage in struggle?” They were part of a generation of youth who emerged in the vast colonies of the European empires in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s who embraced pan-Africanism. Professor Hakim Adi of London, in a symposium on his acclaimed historical work Pan-Africanism and Communism (2013), observed, “It was difficult to find a movement for the advancement of Africa and Africans in the 20th century in which communists, or communism, were not somehow significant . . . Communism can be defined simply as the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the workers, that is the vast majority of people in the world.”

Cabral returned to Guinea Bissau in 1951 and worked for some years as an agronomist in the colonial apparatus. This experience provided him with ample opportunity to learn at first hand of the dire poverty and intense suffering of his people, especially in the countryside. His experiences made him more determined than ever to find ways and means of working for the freedom of his country and delivering his people from the yoke of colonial bondage.” He traveled the countryside to study his country’s soil topography and crop production, organized on the basis of the imperialist “single crop economy” model, generating the first and best scholarly study on the topic. His experiences made him more determined than ever to find ways and means of working for the freedom of his country and delivering his people from the yoke of colonial bondage. This inevitably led him into bitter conflicts with the governor of the colony and he transferred himself for a short period to Angola. Cabral was a man of action. There in 1956 he helped to form along with his university friend Agostinho Neto what became the most important national liberation organisation of Angola, the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola).

Though Cape Verde is a series of islands 500 miles off the coast of Africa, the peoples of Cape Verde and Guinea share a similar history. The Portuguese rulers sought to divide the two by favouring the Cape Verdeans, who were thought to be lighter-skinned than the Guineans. Cabral saw the destiny of the two peoples as inseparable. In 1956 he formed the African Party for Independence (PAI), which would later become the Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC, African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), declaring open armed struggle as the way forward. [1]

“The colonialists usually say that it was they who brought us into history: today we show that this is not so. They made us leave our history, to follow them, right at the back, to follow the progress of their history. Today, in taking up arms to liberate ourselves, in following the examples of other peoples to liberate themselves, we want to return to our history, on our own feet, by our own means and through our own sacrifices.”

As Amílcar Cabral points out in the quote above, the political, ideological and armed intervention by various big powers in the lives of Africa and its peoples is aimed at breaking the independent African historical journey, disempowering Africans and pushing them down into a perpetual state of oppression.

II. The war of independence

From 1956 Amílcar Cabral was instrumental in promoting the independence causes of the then Portuguese colonies, Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde, and then leading one of the most successful wars of independence in modern African history.

From a base of almost nothing, he was able to lead the construction of a mass guerrilla movement based on the peasantry and a political party. The goal of the conflict was to attain independence for both Portuguese Guinea and Cape Verde. Over the course of the conflict, as the movement captured territory from the Portuguese, Cabral became the de facto leader of a large portion of what became Guinea-Bissau.  Fidel Castro referred to him as “one of the most lucid and brilliant leaders in Africa, who instilled in us tremendous confidence in the future and the success of his struggle for liberation.”

In his eulogy, Prof Hakim Adi writes, “Cabral found ways to unite the nearly one million people of Guinea, women included, even though most were illiterate peasant farmers and they spoke different languages. With limited outside support, the people of Guinea fought to liberate their country and started to build a new society in which they themselves were the decision-makers. They did this even when parts of their country were still occupied by Portugal, which had the military support of Britain, the US, Canada and other NATO members.

“Under Cabral’s leadership, the people of Guinea achieved great advances – progress that induced the government of Portugal to plot to assassinate him. His murder was carried out in 1973, just before Guinea achieved independence from Portuguese colonial rule.”

PAIGC began military actions in 1963. (For its part, the Mozambique Liberation Front [FRELIMO] launched its first attacks on September 25, 1964.) In preparation for the independence war, Cabral set up training camps in Ghana with the permission of Kwame Nkrumah, a notable Pan-Africanist. He trained his forces through various techniques, including mock conversations to provide them with effective communication skills that would aid their efforts to mobilize Guinean tribal chiefs to support the PAIGC. Cabral realized the war effort could be sustained only if his troops could be fed and taught to live off the land alongside the larger populace. Being an agronomist, he taught his troops to teach local crop growers better farming techniques, so that they could increase productivity and be able to feed their own family and tribe, as well as the soldiers enlisted in the PAIGC’s military wing. When not fighting, PAIGC soldiers would till and plow the fields alongside the local population.

They also set up a trade-and-barter bazaar system that moved around the country and made staple goods available to the countryside at prices lower than that of colonial store owners. During the war, Cabral also established a roving hospital and triage station to give medical care to wounded PAIGC soldiers and quality-of-life care to the larger populace, relying on medical supplies garnered from the USSR and Sweden. The bazaars and triage stations were at first stationary, until they came under frequent attack from Portuguese regime forces.

The PAIGC rapidly extended its military control over large portions of the territory, aided by the jungle-like terrain and its easily-reached borderlines with neighbouring allies. The PAIGC even managed to acquire a significant anti-aircraft capability in order to defend itself against aerial attack. Without air support, the Portuguese were confined to urban centres, seldom venturing beyond the city limits. Advanced weaponry is needed by imperialists to overcome the superior numbers and determination of the oppressed peoples. Unable to sustain its land forces in sustained fighting on other continents, empire-builders consider better fighter planes and missiles crucial to achieve military superiority in the air. Despite the fact that one out of every four adults in Portugal were in its armed forces, the Portuguese military could not last one day in Africa without superior weapons and U.S. air support, which at the time was insufficient.

1973.01.22.demo nyc cabral assassination

Protest on January 22, 1973 against the assassination two days before of Amílcar Cabral in front of the Portuguese government’s Casa de Portugal in New York. The demonstration was organized by the American Committee on Africa, the Committee for a Free Mozambique and the Southern Africa Committee.

By 1973, the PAIGC was in control of many parts of Guinea, although the movement suffered a setback in January when Amílcar Cabral was assassinated by an agent of the PIDE, the Portuguese secret service – as was opportunely communicated to this general directorship by way of the secret communique No. 217/73-DSInf2, of PIDE’s African operations division, 3 April, 1973. [2]

The assassin’s bullets struck him down just as preparations were going ahead for the convening of the National Assembly in the early part of that year for the adoption of the Constitution and the official declaration of the new independent sovereign State of Guinea.

1974.paigc forces raise the flag of guinea-bissau

PAIGC forces raise the flag of Guinea-Bissau in 1974.

Independence was unilaterally declared on 24 September 1973. Recognition became universal following the 25 April 1974 military coup in Portugal, which overthrew Lisbon’s Estado Novo regime. Luís Cabral, brother of Amílcar and co-founder of PAIGC, was appointed the first President of Guinea-Bissau. The armed liberation struggles that he led eventually resulted in revolution in Portugal and the start of a new democratic era in that country, too.

III. Internationalism

Amílcar Cabral built close links with the liberated African countries – in particular Guinea, Ghana, Tanzania, Algeria and Libya – as well as the liberation movements fighting colonialism in Mozambique, South Africa and Angola. Furthermore, he located the PAIGC’s struggle against colonialism within the global struggle against imperialism and for socialism, and on this basis forged close ties with the Soviet Union, China, the German Democratic Republic, Cuba and Vietnam. (The PAIGC was one of the few movements in the 60s and 70s to successfully navigate the Sino-Soviet split and maintain relations with both the Soviet Union and China).


Amílcar Cabral was repeatedly dismissed as a surrogate for the Soviet Union. However, he decided that Cuba alone should send its fighters to assist Guinea-Bissau. Cuba agreed to supply artillery experts, doctors and technicians.

He chose Cuba in part because he felt an affinity with the Cubans and, above all, because he respected the Cuban revolution. He was clearly moved by the internationalist assistance of Cuba to the national liberation movements in Africa. “I remember that when I was in Cuba, Fidel told me that Cuba is also Africa,” he told a group of Cubans in August 1966. “I don’t believe there is life after death, but if there is, we can be sure that the souls of our forefathers who were taken away to America to be slaves are rejoicing today to see their children reunited and working together to help us be independent and free.”


Thirty years later, other PAIGC leaders echoed his words. “We greatly admired the struggle of the Cuban people. The Cubans were a special case because we knew that they, more than anyone else, were the champions of internationalism,” one recalled. “Cuba made no demands, it gave us unconditional aid,” said another. [3]

Amílcar Cabral, in an inspiring statement featured on the front page of the informative website Stop Foreign Intervention in Africa, emphasized that the essence of solidarity was not something “out there” but for peoples to strive to change their own conditions:

“Does that mean you have to all leave here and go fight in Africa? We do not believe so. That is not being realistic in our opinion. History is a very strong chain. We have to accept the limits of history but not the limits imposed by the societies where we are living. There is a difference. We think that all you can do here to develop your own conditions in the sense of progress, in the sense of history and in the sense of our total realisation of your aspirations as human beings is a contribution for us. It is also a contribution for you to never forget that you are Africans.”

An article published shortly after his death underlined that Amílcar Cabral saw the task of the national liberation movements as not merely to usher in Black rule replacing white faces with black ones. It aimed to raise a different flag and sing a new anthem and remove all forms of exploitation from the country. “Bearing in mind the essential characteristics of the present world economy, as well as experience already gained in the field of anti-imperialist struggle, the principal aspect of national liberation struggle is the struggle against neo-colonialism.” Contrary to disinformation about “settler colonialism” – a post-modernist “theory” which divides and diverts the peoples by blaming colonialism on the settlers themselves – Cabral was careful to distinguish the colour of men’s skins from exploitation. He repeatedly emphasized that the struggle was against Portuguese colonialism and not against the Portuguese people. There is clear opposition to monopoly right and imperialism, reminiscent of the famous dictum of Marx – “Labour in the white skin cannot emancipate itself while labour in the black skin is enslaved.” He made it clear that:

“We are fighting so that insults may no longer rule our countries, martyred and scorned for centuries, so that our peoples may never more be exploited by imperialists not only by people with white skin, because we do not confuse exploitation or exploiters with the colour of men’s skins; we do not want any exploitation in our countries, not even by black people.”

In 1970, Cabral visited Alma Ata, the capital of Kazakhstan, for a conference on self-determination of oppressed nations. Cabral called Lenin “the greatest champion of the national liberation of the peoples.” It is not clear what Cabral meant by such a statement. Lenin is known for creating the Leninist political party of a new type, which was qualitatively different from the working class organizations created by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels during the nineteenth century. This however was not the case in Guinea Bissau.

It is also important to note the speech he made in the US against any intervention and defending his people’s right to self-determination. The same year he was the opening witness before US Rep. Charles Diggs’ House subcommittee on Africa in Washington on 26 February 1970. He exposed the role of the United States and the NATO bloc in arming the Portuguese colonialists while at the same time paying lip service to independence. Charles Hightower, in an article in Washington Notes by the American Committee on Africa, reported:

“Cabral, one of Africa’s most prominent revolutionary leaders, opened his testimony with a personal salute to Chairman Diggs for his activity in presenting to Congress the vital questions concerning African liberation movements.

“‘Our presence here today,’ he told Congressman Diggs, ‘is to salute you, and through you to salute that part of the American nation which supports our struggle … ’ Concerning the seven year struggle for independence waged by the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau, the revolutionary leader said: ‘We are not fighting the Portuguese people. We are fighting Portuguese colonial domination. We are fighting for our independence.’

“Exhibiting photographs showing the effects on the people of Guinea of the napalm attacks made by the Portuguese, Cabral told the subcommittee it appears that the U.S. supports Portuguese colonialism, ‘because the weapons used against us come, in large part, from the U.S. through NATO.’ Some of the photos and film brought by Mr. Cabral showed captured napalm bombs with the inscription: Property of the U.S. Air Force.”

The liberation force, led by Amilcar Cabral, has won more than two-thirds of Guinea-Bissau, a country of 800,000 people sandwiched between Senegal and the Republic of Guinea. The Portuguese are concentrated in the urban centers and along the coast.

“‘We are going to win this fight,’ said Cabral. ‘We must win’.”

Unity of all anti-imperialist forces in action was a matter of life and death. He pointed out in 1969:

“The Portuguese government is isolated internationally (as is proved by the voting at the UN), but this isolation covers only the political and moral field. In the basic fields of economics, finance and arms, which determine and condition the real political and moral behaviour of states, the Portuguese government is able to count more than ever on the effective aid of the NATO allies and others….

“The Portuguese government has managed to guarantee for as long as necessary the assistance which it receives from the Western powers and from its racist allies in Southern Africa. It is our duty to stress the international character of the Portuguese colonial war against Africa and the important and even decisive role played by the USA and Federal Germany in pursuing this war. If the Portuguese government is still holding out on the three fronts of the war which it is fighting in Africa, it is because it can count on the overt or covert support of the USA, freely use NATO weapons, buy B26 aircraft for the genocide of our people (including from ‘private parties’), and obtain whenever it wishes money, jet aircraft and weapons of every sort from Federal Germany where, furthermore, certain war-wounded from the Portuguese colonial army are hospitalized and treated.”

IV. NATO and the Politics of Assassination

The direct, critical and extensive role of the NATO military bloc in Africa acknowledged above is generally overlooked or minimized in accounts of the life and work of Amílcar Cabral and the African liberation movements in the West. Its role in the assassination of Cabral is also overlooked, minimized and whitewashed; instead, “political rivals” are blamed, as if the African people are incapable of unified organization. What, after all, does the “North Atlantic” Treaty Organization have to do with that continent, the continent that is the birthplace of humanity? If one wants to understand the true nature of NATO at a time when it is going all out to celebrate the 70th anniversary of its founding in 1949, it is worthwhile to consider the figure of Amílcar Cabral and Portugal itself. This is even more so when the Trudeau government is decreeing that the Canadian people cherish membership in NATO as a “Canadian value” and NATO is meddling in elections and the internal affairs of the member countries. As I write, Canada has deployed two warships from Halifax, HMCS Kingston and HMCS Shawinigan, to West Africa in support of #OpPROJECTION – “to work with partners & allies to enhance maritime security + stability” in the Gulf of Guinea.”

Historical experience merits attention. On the occasion of Hitler’s death, flags in Lisbon were flown at half-mast and a half-day’s mourning was declared. The United Nations rightly excluded Portugal and Franco’s Spain from joining the UN in 1946. Nevertheless, Canada for instance continued diplomatic relations; it even expanded its consular services, seeking the recruitment of Portuguese cheap labour for the post-war economy. Year by year, the deference to anti-fascist sentiment yielded to the design of the cold war. In 1948 the US began campaigning for repeal of the ban. In 1949 the United States, Britain and Canada together invited Portugal, a colonial power and fascist dictatorship ruled by Antonio Oliveira Salazar (1889-1970), to become one of the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. “Ideological objections” about the dictatorship were waived.[4] In fact, Africa was a prominent factor in the formation of NATO whose orientation, though posing as “a regional defence organization” under the United Nations was global – in defiance of the United Nations. The battle for Africa was in many ways a strategically important battle for world resources, control and domination. Africa was and is now, with the population of over a billion people, the second most populous continent in the world, next to Asia. Through sleight of hand, NATO decreed its southern boundary to be the Tropic of Capricorn, while its western boundary was tacitly understood to include the Pacific Ocean. This arrangement opened the way for the involvement of NATO and the USA in Africa and the all-round assistance provided to subjugate the freedom struggles of the peoples against France, Belgium, Portugal and South Africa.

Portugal’s card for membership in the NATO alliance was the Azores Islands in the mid-Atlantic and, to a lesser extent, Cape Verde in West Africa. The Azores were deemed vital as a staging base or “stepping stone” for US military aircraft (much like Iceland), and a shorter airway to the Middle East, India, and China, along with its own geographical position on the sea lanes to North Africa and the Middle East. During World War II, fascist Portugal and Franco Spain allied with Hitlerite Germany under the mask of “neutrality.” Economically, the two were an important source of ferro-allay mineral resources such as wolfram ore for the Nazi war machine, while Britain maintained “benevolent neutrality” with Portugal and collaborated with both fascist dictatorships. The most extensive wolfram deposits in Europe were in the Iberian Peninsula, 90 per cent of them in Portugal. Wolfram ore from Portugal was particularly critical because it yielded tungsten, the most valuable strategic war metal.[5] Anglo-Canadian capital had important investments in wolfram in Spain and Portugal; in Portugal the major foreign interest, the largest mine, and the largest share of wolfram production belonged to Britain. Militarily, in 1940, the US acquired bases from Britain in the celebrated destroyers-bases deal which provided the latter 50 over-age American destroyers. The US got a 99-year lease on a string of bases along the Atlantic littoral: Newfoundland, Bermuda, the Bahamas (Grand Exuma Island), St. Lucia, Antigua, Jamaica, Trinidad and British Guyana. That provided a forward perimeter defence in the Atlantic, a maritime Maginot Line based on the Monroe Doctrine, under the pretext of “hemispheric security”. In May 1941, the US actively considered invading Iceland, the Azores and Cape Verde, deciding in the end to concentrate on Iceland and Greenland, possessions of occupied Denmark.[6] Politically, in 1943, George Kennan, then Charge d’Affaires in Lisbon, personally delivered to Salazar, who realized the real direction of the war after the heroic victory of the Red Army at Stalingrad, the necessary pledge of US respect for “Portuguese sovereignty in all Portuguese colonies” in order to secure approval to use the Azores as a mid-Atlantic base for the occupation of North Africa (“Operation Torch”) and “hemispheric security.”[7] Britain, the old master of Portugal, had already made a similar commitment. Portugal ceded to the United States “unrestricted utilization of Santa Maria air base [on the most southeastern island of the Azores – TS], which would remain, both with respect to operations and administration and control, under the command of the American air force.” In parallel, in connection with logistics across the Atlantic and on across Africa to the Middle East, the US acquired access to Brazilian air bases at Belem, Natal and on the island of Fernando de Noronha; the trampoline thus involved staging bases in the Caribbean, British Guyana, the northeast corner of Brazil, Ghana, Nigeria, Khartoum and on to Egypt. The base was established in 1944 and the marines deployed – never to leave, despite the end of World War II.

The signing of the Lajes Agreement on 2 February 1948 – a bilateral military agreement between Portugal and the United States – heralded Portugal’s smooth incorporation into NATO in 1949. In addition to the strategic importance of the Azores, the importance of the Madeira archipelago and the mainland Portuguese territory, where NATO would instal some important infrastructure facilities and one of its commands – the Iberian Atlantic Command (IBERLANT) – cannot be overlooked. The aim of the Americans was to outdo the British, make all Portugal and Spain one vast Gibraltar and the entire Mediterranean an “American lake.” The strategic importance of North Africa and the memory of the siege of Tobruk were too fresh in their minds for the US and NATO to give it up. The US and NATO would maintain a military presence. The US established bases in southern Spain, Italy, Morocco and another called Wheelus Air Base in Libya called “Little America” until the US was asked to leave after Gaddafi seized power in 1969. The US schemed to get back into Libya ever since. 

The question of self-determination for Portugal’s African or Asian possessions did not arise. Along with apartheid South Africa (also up for membership in NATO in 1949), fascist Portugal was now regarded as a “friend of the West” and its African colonies vital for the defence of Christianity, while NATO was spun as “the bastion of the Free World.” We must ask, insistently and endlessly, what kind of freedom and for whom? Just as the Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are referred to as “neighbourhoods” and even the word “occupation” is erased, NATO connived with Portugal’s benign description of its colonies – the Azores, Madra, Cape Verde, Sao Tome, Principe, Angola, Guinea, Mozambique, Cabinda, Goa, Macao, Timor – as “overseas provinces” or ultramar and that of France’s – Algeria, French West Africa, Martinique, St. Pierre et Miquelon, etc. – as “departements” of France d’outre-mer. Such was the duplicity of Canada that, as Yves Engler notes in Canada in Africa, in March 1949 foreign minister Lester Pearson – a minute after saying Article 6 of NATO included the “Algerian departments of France” – declared that it “does not include colonial possessions.”

Portugal’s participation in NATO contributed to strengthening a regime and its stranglehold on its colonies in Africa and Asia, which had been weakened by the defeat of the fascist powers in World War II. Considering the strategic importance of the air rights in the Azores, which the American Joint Chiefs of Staff desired on a long-term lease, the United States decided to release Portugal’s assets; the $55 million in gold it had acquired from Hitlerite Germany in wartime seized by the US was released as a bribe. NATO established its Iberian command centre in Oeiras, Portugal; today Joint Command Lisbon is the operational lead for NATO/AU (African Union) engagement. The USA and later West Germany built military bases in Portugal. US military schools trained over 3,000 Portuguese military personnel between 1950 and 1974.

This regime remained in power for decades. Portugal had the longest fascist dictatorship in Europe, lasting 48 years (from 1926 to 1974). A land ruled by hangmen and murderers, its colonial apparatus included those trained by the Nazis – e.g., Arnaldo Schultz, trained by the Nazis in Germany and Salazar’s Minister of the Interior from 1958 to 1961; Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Portuguese Guinea from 1964 to 1968 – and those who had no need of such training. The political police was estimated to have had 200,000 Portuguese in its service at its height – this in a metropolitan population of 10 million.

At no time did NATO consider this a problem. On 4 April 1949, fully one third of NATO’s twelve founding members – Britain, France, Belgium and Portugal, despite their weakening during World War II – still directly possessed vast empires in Africa. Portugal’s military plans reflected the political assumptions of a unified NATO stance. In a supplementary agreed interpretation of the 1949 NATO treaty, kept secret until 1975, the parties pledged “consultation … in the event of a threat in any part of the world, including a threat to their overseas territories.” [8] A secret clause in Portugal’s 5 January 1951 defence agreement with the United States pledged prompt US consent for “transfer of armaments, which perchance may be necessary, from metropolitan Portuguese territory to any Portuguese colonial territory.” NATO and NATO member countries armed and equipped the Portuguese colonialist and fascist regime, enabling it to wage, a colonial war in its African colonies of Guinea-Bissau, Angola and Mozambique for over 25 years. [9] The Azores today constitute a vital base for the US Rapid Deployment Force (organized under CENTCOM) and AFRICOM in the war for reconquest of Africa being waged by the old colonial and neo-colonial NATO powers.

The freedom struggles in Africa were repeatedly discussed in NATO council meetings throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as was the necessity to combat the rise of the youth, workers and new Marxist-Leninist movement in Europe and the American hemisphere. Their suppression formed a component part of its general counter-revolutionary political, diplomatic and military strategy of NATO and the intelligence agencies of the imperialist powers through such black operations as the “Strategy of Tension” of NATO’s Gladio, the CIA’s “Operation Chaos” in the USA and Canada, and Operation Condor in Latin America.

V. Gladio and Aginter Press

Alongside the known NATO treaties, it was revealed in the 1980s that the US had secret agreements with each NATO member state to promote a network of murder organisations specializing in “Black Ops”, which, it must be admitted, were and still are extensive, which had no recognition of laws and limits, and which were left unpunished for the crimes they had committed. These operated under the secret Gladio network from World War II and then incorporated organizationally into NATO. [10]

GladioEmblem of %22Gladio%22, Italian branch of the NATO %22stay-behind%22 paramilitary organizations. The motto means %22In silence I preserve freedom%22.

Gladio emblem. The motto means ‘In silence I preserve freedom.’

The genesis of Gladio dates back to World War II and the covert efforts of the British Special Operations Executive and the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner to the CIA) to contain and infiltrate the anti-fascist resistance movement in Europe, especially those led by the communists. At the beginning of the Cold War it came under the aegis of the Western Union (comprising Britain, France, and the ‘Benelux’ countries: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, formed in March 1948), the immediate predecessor to NATO, and then under NATO headquarters in 1952. In Portugal, it initially established cells as a secret parallel armed force during the 1950s, according to a retired Portuguese general, “dependent on the Defence Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Ministry for Colonial Affairs.”[11]

According to Portuguese and other journalists, the assassination of Amílcar Cabral on 20 January 1973 was carried out by agents of Aginter Press – the Portuguese branch of GLADIO, the US-NATO’s covert paramilitary organization.

Portugal was itself a country that was not free and sovereign; its state was bound hand and foot to foreign capital and its economy was a neo-colony of European, British and American capital. Along with the military bases of NATO, the intelligence agencies of the US and Germany operated night and day in both Portugal and Spain. In September 1966 – a period characterized by a large social movement in Europe for change and against NATO, the US war of aggression in Vietnam and US support for right-wing dictatorships in Latin America and Western Europe including Portugal – the CIA set up the notorious Aginter Press in Lisbon. It operated under the Portuguese secret service [Policia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado, PIDE] as a wing of Gladio. It was also connected with the BND, German intelligence.

aginter press card

It is difficult for any decent person to believe in such a cruel operation. As documents subsequently declassified disclose and the assassination of Cabral indicates, in reality, this Lisbon-based “press agency,” which published neither articles, pamphlets or books, was a pharmacy of the blackest reaction. It functioned as a training centre for state-sponsored anti-communist covert action, subversion, and terrorism. Under the cover of an information service, it ran a secret stay-behind army and trained its members in “black ops” amounting to terrorism. These included bombings, silent assassinations, subversion techniques, clandestine communication and infiltration and colonial warfare. The objective was consistent with the progressive development of criminal plots against African leaders and people.

aginter press.gladio.yves guérin sérac

Yves Guérin Séra

Aginter was directed by Captain Yves Guèrin-Sèrac (pictured), a French specialist in secret warfare and veteran of the French and US war in Vietnam, the US war in Korea (receiving the US Bronze Star), and the French war in Algeria. Guèrin-Sèrac had taken part in the founding of the Organisation de l’Armee Secrete (OAS; Secret Army Organization), the mixed military-civilian terrorist group that violently resisted President Charles De Gaulle’s efforts to grant Algeria independence.

Its ranks included Otto Skorzeny, the former Waffen SS Lieutenant-Colonel based in a palatial mansion in Alicante, Spain, who had operated under the direct personal orders of Adolf Hitler and became a rallying point for the serpentine labyrinth of European fascism and neo-Nazism. Skorzeny too was linked to the Gehlen Org in West Germany and the CIA, being deployed to Egypt as military adviser to the CIA-backed General Mohammed Naguib.  [12]

Aginter carried out other political assassinations within Portugal and in the Portuguese colonies. They reportedly included Humberto Delgado, Portuguese opposition leader, killed 14 February 1965, and Eduardo Mondlane, the father of Mozambican independence – he was the leader and President of the Mozambique liberation party and movement FRELIMO (Frente de Liberacao de Mocambique) – killed in colonial Mozambique on 3 February 1969. Other assassinated African leaders included Félix-Roland Moumié, a Marxist Cameroonian leader murdered by French intelligence in 1960; Patrice Lumumba of the Congo murdered on January 17, 1961 by Belgian troops, the CIA and the blood-thirsty Mobutu clique; Samora Machel of Mozambique; Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso; El Mehdi Ben Barka of Morocco on October 29, 1965 in Paris; and Chris Hani of South Africa.

GLADIO operated in parallel with the FBI Cointelpro program of disruption and assassination within the USA (e.g., the Black Panthers) and Operation Condor in South and Central America (e.g., “forced disappearances”, Cuban-American terrorism).

Operating on a global scale, militant Aginter terrorists reportedly participated in Guatemalan terror and counter-terrorist operations from 1968 to 1971 together with the CIA and US Green Berets, in which thousands were killed. They were also involved in the overthrow of President Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973; it trained the Patria y Libertad in Chile, which had very close links with the CIA during the destabilization and violent overthrow of Allende’s government.

A sub-branch of Aginter Press called “Organisation Armee contre le communisme International” (OACI) was also found to be operating in Italy.

VI. The Revolution of Flowers and the “alliance”

The impact of the African liberation movements reached into metropolitan Europe. In fascist Portugal, all references to Marxism and class struggle were punishable by imprisonment, torture and even execution. It was in Africa that many conscripted Portuguese soldiers, of rural and working-class backgrounds, first came into contact with ideas about democracy and socialism. Such an army did not constitute a compact mass; there was not and could not be unity in it. At the time of Cabral’s assassination, Guinea-Bissau was occupied by 25,000 Portuguese conscripts of the 200,000 overall stationed in Africa. An attempted armed rebellion within the air force had taken place in April 1965, which led to the arrest of over 100 military, including a senior officer sentenced to 28 years in prison. Other conflicts, generally severely repressed, increasingly took place during the so-called liberalisation period of Marcelo Caetano who had replaced Salazar. By 1969, Cabral reported, “More than 7,000 young men, drafted into the army and destined mainly for our country, have been able to desert and hide in the countryside, or get abroad, especially to France.” The RPAC (Popular Anti-Colonial Resistance) was formed within the armed forces. In 1971 a NATO communications centre, outside Lisbon, was blown up. By September 1973, a CIA memo admitted that while there was no indication that Portugal was going to withdraw from Africa “Although some officials admit in private that Portuguese Guinea may soon become a lost cause,” the document stressed.

The resistance and determination of the peoples of Cape Verde and Bissau and Angola wore down the conscripted Portuguese army. Sixty per cent of the officers and NCOs were conscripts, many of them college-educated. In 1974 it emboldened junior officers – the  “Movement of the Captains,” an organization which began in Mozambique – to rebel against the military caste of career officers in a well-organized insurrection. Another objective factor was an all-sided crisis in Portugal, a colonial and oppressor state that was a neo-colony of big European and US capital in the imperialist system of states. This crisis was manifested in a growing split of the bourgeoisie, the demand to “modernize” a backward neo-colonial capitalist system, characterized by the lowest productivity in Europe in the agricultural sector – organized in vast estates, with more than 50 per cent of cultivable land belonging to one per cent of the landowners or reactionary latifundists, leading to massive out-migration of over 1 million to northern Europe as well as Canada; the demand was to increase the rate of capital accumulation through intensifying the extraction of surplus value and decolonization (military expenditures now totalled one quarter of the national budget). One section of the elite thus played the reform card. What unfolded next forms a companion chapter in this brief overview of the life and deeds of Amílcar Cabral of significance for today.

1974.portugal.may day march

May Day 1974 demonstration in Lisbon

The collapse of fascist Portugal was sudden. A coup on 6 March 1974 failed. Arrests and tortures which followed strengthened the resolve of the Movement. On 25 April, the Carnation Revolution, an almost bloodless coup by junior military officers resulted in the end of the Portuguese wars in Africa. General António de Spínola, the former governor of Guinea-Bissau, was promoted by the Armed Forces Movement as the figure head of the Council of National Salvation and to occupy the presidency. In their first decree, they established freedom of speech and assembly, allowed trade unions to organize, promised elections by universal suffrage, granted immediate amnesty to political prisoners, and dissolved the brutal political police, PIDE. After a two-year-long “transitional period” to November 1976, a so-called parliamentary democracy on the model of the 19th century liberal democratic state was established in Portugal. The property of the bourgeoise was untouched. In some way, although the democratic “revolution” was frustrated and never carried through, the brief period of 1974-1976 is said to be one of the most lively periods of the history of Portugal, with a significant participation of people in everyday life and decisions as they strove to empower themselves.

VII. “NATO Outside of Portugal and Portugal Outside of NATO”

During and after the April revolution, NATO exerted pressures and interferences of several types on its “ally”. A massive NATO fleet arrived in Lisbon on 24 April 1974 during the coup under the pretext of the annual “Locked Gate” exercises. “Gate” refers to the Straits of Gibraltar. Nineteen NATO warships moored in Lisbon harbour, seen by most Portuguese as intimidation, under the overall command of US Navy Admiral Stansfield Turner (later CIA director), Commander-in-Chief Allied Forces Southern Europe with headquarters in Naples, Italy. The ships sailed on 25 April at dawn. It is conceivable that NATO, and hence the US government and the CIA, were informed of the coup in advance, given the presence of high-ranking military officers in the coup, who had had extensive contact with NATO and the CIA through the African wars. Its presence was a de facto “green light” to replace the Caetano regime.

The Trudeau government in Canada, which had been supplying weapons to Portugal and had profitable concessions in southern Africa, played a perfidious though little-known role. The fleet included two Canadian warships, the HMCS Assiniboine and HMCS Yukon. A Canadian Air Force Argus detachment from Greenwood, NS was at the international airport at Portela, which had been seized at 3:30 that morning by a unit of the officer training school. According to a revealing recollection published on a military website, the commander of the Assiniboine was personally briefed by “the American Assistant Naval Attache, in plain clothes, (who) approached Commander Corneil. He was fluent in Portuguese and described what was going on. From this, Corneil was able to give the Embassy a detailed account of events and the uncertainty of the Portuguese naval officers present who did not want to leave the Doca until they were certain who was going to win.”[13]

To make this assistance more concrete and demonstrative, the NATO summit held in Ottawa, Canada, in October 1974, discussed plans for forming a joint naval task force in the South Atlantic in the wake of Portuguese decolonization. A declaration was issued extending NATO operational bounds “wherever mutual interests arise.”[14] Meanwhile, NATO naval and air exercises continued to be held off the coast of Portugal. to fascism

In January 1975 a giant demonstration of 300,000 in Lisbon was called by Intersindical, the national labour confederation. People carried banners such as: “Banks for the People, Now”; “Against Capitalist Unity of Unions”; “Struggle to create Popular Power”; “Workers’ Government, yes – Bosses’ Government, no”. Banners of Workers’ Committees and unions floated side by side in the breeze, epitomizing the very different ideas prevailing within the class. Passing the PS headquarters the crowds shouted louder and louder “Out with the CIA, Out with NATO.”

In February 1975, NATO again resorted to a massive show of military force with its “Locked Gate” manoeuvres carried out along the Portuguese coast, in order to try to thwart any progressive course proclaimed by the MFA [Armed Forces Movement] soldiers.

On 7 February 1975 a period of high tension and intense political maneuvering in the Cabinet was capped by land seizures by landless peasants and another large demonstration of 40,000 workers in Lisbon directed against the “visit” of the NATO fleet (then known as known as Standing Naval Force Atlantic – STANAVFORLANT). American, Canadian, British, French, West German, Netherlands, Norway and Portuguese warships participated.

1975.nato locked gate.uss_saratoga_(cv-60)_at_sea_c1975

The US aircraft carrier USS Saratago at sea in 1975 in the Atlantic Ocean | Wikiwand

The massive US aircraft carrier USS Saratago and other warships entered the Tagus River delta and anchored in front of the Presidential Palace of Belém. The government forbade all demonstrations, portraying the visit as purely a routine one and organised a year earlier. The naval exercise, involving simulating bombings of central Portugal and the actual strafing of the barracks of the armed forces movement, was obviously a counter-revolutionary exercise and psychological warfare to intimidate the Portuguese people.[15]

In parallel, Henry Kissinger, author of a 1965 book on NATO that failed to mention Portugal at all, was scheming to re-constitute a fascist government on the Azores to guarantee the USA the control of its great air base – the “stepping stone” to Africa and the Middle East. The context was his infamous 1969 “Tar Baby” policy, i.e., that independent black Africa, after a little juggling of “change,” could be made to accept a “union” with the white-ruled South, all under US “influence.”

In February 1975, General António de Spínola (now out of power) and his clique began preparations for a new coup d’état. The attempt undertaken on 11 March 1975 also ended in failure. Spínola was forced to emigrate to Brazil, from which he mounted a terrorist campaign against the government in collaboration with Aginter commandoes. [16] The NATO exercises tells us a great deal about the nature of the “alliance” and the significance of “training” and “exercises” which are to be accepted as “routine” and “normal.” [17]

In 1975, the Portuguese withdrew from Guinea-Bissau and Angola. On 5 June 1975 Mozambican Independence was obtained under the leadership of Frelimo. The Indonesian army marched into East Timor one day after a meeting between Suharto with the-then US president, Ford, and in 1976, East Timor was formally annexed, a move which was never recognized by the UN.

That year NATO seriously considered expelling Portugal from its ranks, considering that it was no longer deemed a reliable member of the “alliance”, and denied it access to classified documents. If the Europeans were not able to manage Africa, the US was ready to leap into the breach, especially in order to stop the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) from coming to power in newly independent Angola, to protect the northern flank of its racist allies in South Africa and its own access to the mineral wealth. Without ever declaring war, this is what it did in 1975-76, its soldiers dressed in civilian clothes, along with the Aginter Press commandoes. In October South Africa invaded Angola to overthrow the MPLA government which turned to Cuba for support.[18] On 27 November, aircraft from a NATO base buzzed RALIS (the base and barracks of the Lisbon Artillery Regiment in Portugal) for nearly 24 hours, and as a regiment of “loyal” troops moved against them, a meeting of soldiers at RALIS finally decided to surrender. [19]

VIII. “South Atlantic Treaty Organization”

In May 1975 a NATO defence ministers’ meeting heard US Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger propose using Pretoria’s Simonstown naval base in the NATO framework. In October, Lt. General Guenther Rall, West German representative on NATO’s Military Committee, resigned when the African National Congress revealed that he had traveled to South Africa the previous year under an assumed name and visited various atomic and military installations. This exposure caused considerable concern in some NATO capitals, but only a month later Sir Peter Hill-Norton of Britain felt it appropriate to call for an extension of NATO’s interest to cover the Cape route.

For some time, the US had been promoting the formation of a “South Atlantic Treaty Organization” (SATO) linking South Africa, the dictatorships of Argentina and Brazil and the US. On 23 May 1959, for example, the NATO Council considered a plan to set up SATO to include “friendly” African regimes. According to this plan, SATO would be the structure with which NATO could organise military intervention in any part of Africa in the name of the “free world.” The formal SATO plan ostensibly failed but was revived in the mid-1970s in fear of the rise of the powerful liberation struggles in Southern Africa who gave vent to the demand for independence from colonialism and racism. The strategic concept persisted through the Malvinas/Falkland war of 1982 within the Reagan presidency in the 1980s.

Nevertheless, a fluid strategy of widening the sphere of influence and NATO expansion in Africa and South America assumes various forms. In the context of the 2011 US-NATO aggression against and the destruction of Libya in North Africa and the feverish expansion of its new African Command (Africom, based in Stuttgart, Germany), Washington has its sights set on making West Africa a military outpost, from which to exploit Africa, as well as a naval-military bridge to Brazil and Argentina in South America, now in the hands of pro-American ruling cliques. This is being brought to the fore all over again in a new form as the US demands a naval base in northeastern Brazil (Natal) and Colombia is incorporated into NATO.

For its part, the intervention of Canada in West Africa today has the same features as the 1970s. It is striving to penetrate in every way, in order to establish economic, political and strategic bases there, where Canadian capital has major exploitative interests, especially in mining. On January 22, 2019 the Trudeau government deployed two warships, HMCS Kingston and HMCS Shawinigan, for a three-month deployment to Cape Verde and West Africa  – “to work with partners & allies to enhance maritime security + stability” in the Gulf of Guinea.” There we have it. The scramble of all the big powers to position themselves effectively in Africa still has high ideals! In fact, what is clearly revealed is the sharpening inter-imperialist rivalry over zones of influence, cheap sources of raw materials, markets and cheap labour. As the US makes a desperate bid to establish its total control over Africa, all the big powers are forced to join in. Naval-military deployments from Canada have become an annual affair. In 2018,  and  deployed to West Africa, visiting Cape Verde, Senegal, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Benin “on behalf of Global Affairs.”

VIII. Tributes to Amílcar Cabral

mural on the wall of the amílcar cabral foundation offices in praia, cape verde

Mural on the wall of the Amílcar Cabral foundation offices in Praia, Cape Verde (Fundação Amílcar Cabral, Praia) | Wikipedia

Amílcar Cabral is a historical personality “whose influence reverberated far beyond the African continent.” Amílcar Cabral International Airport, Cape Verde’s principal international airport at Sal, is named in his honour. There is also a football competition, the Amílcar Cabral Cup, in zone 2, named as a tribute to him. In addition, the only privately owned university in Guinea-Bissau – Amílcar Cabral University, in Bissau – is named after him.

President William R. Tolbert (Republic of Liberia) commissioned and built a housing estate on the Old Road, Sinkor, Monrovia, Liberia, named in honour of Cabral.

There is a block of flats named Amilcar Cabral Court on Porteus Road in west London, situated in the Paddington Green area.

The figure of Amílcar Cabral, one of Africa’s most prominent revolutionary leaders, and his compatriots who were likewise assassinated, and the movements they led, belie all of the racist clichés about corrupt, inefficient, vainglorious, tribal African leadership and “failed states”. Instead of sectarian conflict and the enrichment of a tiny ruling elite, they projected broad African unity premised on the public ownership of the continent’s rich resources. This vision cut to the very heart of imperialist control and remains undimmed. From Tunisia to South Africa, the stage is set for a new era of struggle for the social and national liberation of Africa in even more difficult conditions. Amílcar Cabral’s legacy and thought remains valuable today. Many Africans continue to be inspired by Cabral’s great leadership. His life and work show that, whatever the obstacles, the people are capable of being their own liberators.

Also published on the Stop Foreign Intervention in Africa website


1. Danny Shaw, Amilcar Cabral and The National Liberation Movement of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, January 26, 2011, Liberation School)

2. The Portuguese newspaper Expresso provided an extraordinary account of the so-called Operacao Safira mounted by the Portuguese secret service (PIDE) against the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau in 1973, on January 24, 1976. Drawing extensively on this account, Ken Lawrence, an American journalist, writes:

“After the coup of April 25, 1974, which overthrew the fascist regime in Portugal, many formerly secret documents were published which exposed the colonial government’s covert actions in Africa. Undoubtedly the most sensational of these were the secret letters from Jonas Savimbi of UNITA to the Portuguese Military Command in Angola, revealing their collaboration against MPLA, published in Afrique-Asie (July 1974). In October 1975 Diario de Luanda published letters from the Portuguese Governor-General of Angola to Savimbi, further documenting UNITA’s work for imperialism.

“In January 1976 the Lisbon newspaper Expresso published articles and documents of covert operations conducted jointly by PIDE (the Portuguese secret police) and SDECE (the French intelligence agency – Service de Documentation Exterieure et de Contre-Espionage [TS]). The first of these, in 1970, Operation Mar Verde (Green Sea), was a plot to overthrow Sekou Toure in Guinea-Conakry. Its failure did not deter PIDE and SDECE; instead they expanded the scope of their scheming with a new plot called Project Safira (Sapphire). After the assassination of Amilcar Cabral, Barbieri Cardoso, the head of PIDE African operations, decided the time was ripe to cripple PAIGC fatally and to reverse the process of liberation which by then had freed almost 75 per cent of rural Guinea-Bissau. At the same time the covert operators in France, eager to return Guinea-Conakry to French control, were seeking once again to foment a coup to overturn Sekou Toure’s government and replace him with a hand-picked puppet named Col. Diallo. The common interests of the imperialist powers were strengthened by the fact that Toure was supporting PAIGC; they teamed up. The outline of the PIDE-SDECE conspiracy was this: using two provocateurs code-named PADRE and ANJO who had penetrated the top ranks of PAIGC, deep divisions would be promoted within the liberation movement based primarily on supposed differences in ethnicity and ideology between Cape Verdeans and Guineans. Once a rift was promoted, the plot went, Toure would be naturally allied with the leadership of one faction (Cape Verdeans); the others (Guineans) would view him as the enemy and join in ousting him. Unlike so many covert actions which have brought death and suffering to so many, this one came to naught due to the overthrow of the Portuguese fascist government.”

For a discussion of the compete operation, see Ken Lawrence, “PIDE and SDECE: Plotting in Guinea,” in Dirty Work 2: The CIA in Africa, Ellen Ray, William Schaap, Karl Van Meter and Louis Wolf (eds.),  London: Zed Press, 1980, pp. 114–120, from which the foregoing is taken. Text of this book is online here.

3. Carlos Martinez“The Revolutionary Legacy of Amilcar Cabral,” Invent the Future, 13 September 2014.

4. Political parties were banned (except for the ruling Fascist Party); opponents of the regime were regularly jailed, tortured, sent to concentration camps or murdered; independent trade unions were closed down; there was censorship of the press and the arts; the political police were ever present; and the peoples of Portugal’s colonial empire were denied their basic right to self-determination. The best and the finest leaders of the working class were driven into exile or put to death. In short, this founding member of NATO had neither democracy, individual freedoms, nor the rule of law.

As for Spain, in 1949, to hasten the campaign, the US delegation introduced the gentle art of “arm-twisting” into the General Assembly, and in November 1950 the art bore fruit; the ban against Franco was lifted and Washington was the first of the major powers to return an ambassador to Franco’s Madrid.

5. Tungsten carbide, the hardest metal made, was essential for tough, heat resistant steel and high speed cutting tools that could machine military equipment 10 to 15 times faster than normal tools. Steel hardened by alloys like tungsten was a vital war commodity. Altogether there were more than 15,000 tungsten applications. Its most important military uses were in armour plate and the carbide cores of high velocity armour piercing projectiles. The Germans had been the first to use tungsten this way, and no practical substitutes were available. See Donald G. Stevens, “World War II Economic Warfare; The United States, Britain, and Portuguese Wolfram,” The Historian, Volume 61, Issue 3, 1999, p. 539.

6. Kenneth G. Weiss, The Azores in Diplomacy and Strategy, 1940-1945, Alexandria, Virginia: Center For Naval Analyses, 2000.

7. William Minter, Portuguese Africa and the West (Harmondsworth/NY: Penguin Books/ Monthly Review Press, 1972, 1973), p. 39.

8. Escott Reid, Time of Fear and Hope: The Making of the North Atlantic Treaty, 1947-1949 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977), p. 267.

9. While maintaining the fiction that weapons supplied under NATO agreements were not for use in Africa, the United States supplied Portugal with weapons for precisely such use. In 1965, for example, a CIA front called Intermountain Aviation secretly flew seven B-26s to Portugal. As Marchetti and Marks explain:

“The sale directly violated the official United States policy against arms exports to Portugal for use in Angola…. [But] the U.S. government, at its highest level, had decided to sell twenty B-26s to Portugal, and the CIA proprietary was following official orders.” (Victor Marchetti and John D. Marks, The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1974), pp. 155-156.)

The Nixon administration granted Portugal full access to Export-Import Bank credit. It relaxed the already weak arms embargo, in particular on “dual purpose” equipment having both civilian and military uses. At the United Nations, the United States began to vote against resolutions condemning Portugal. Together with the Salazar regime, it promoted the diversion that arms were simply for Portugal’s use in the “Northern hemisphere.”

In return for an extension of the lease on the Azores, Portugal received an aid “package” of $436 million, including $400 million in Ex-Im loans and guarantees. It needed a means of rapidly transporting its troops to the faraway scene of the fighting in its colonies. Ex-Im credit financed the purchase of Boeing 707s, 727s, and 747s, whose sale the administration authorized knowing that Portugal used them as military transports in Africa. ExIm credit also financed the purchase of helicopters and photoreconnaissance aircraft.

Meanwhile, the US Commerce Department encouraged investment in the Portuguese colonies, describing favourably in its annual reports the “stability and security” maintained by Lisbon. Large US oil and mining companies speeded up their investment in exploration and development of natural resources in Angola and Mozambique. (Mohamed A. El-Khawas and Barry Cohen (eds.), The Kissinger Study of Southern Africa: National Security Study Memorandum 39, Westport, Connecticut: Lawrence Hill & Co., 1976, p. 93 and William Minter, King Solomon’s Mines Revisited (New York: Basic Books, 1986), p. 234.)

It is worth recalling that in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, the United States was denied the use of transit facilities in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Portugal was the only country to agree to the US request (the US aircraft flew from Germany to the Lajes base, in the Azores and from there to Israel.)

10. For detailed information, see Dr Daniele Ganser, NATO’s Secret Armies – Operation Gladio and Terrorism in Western Europe, 2005, London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2005. Full text is available online at

11. According to the investigation of the Belgian Senate and confirmed by different historians, preparations for unorthodox warfare continued after World War Two and preceded the creation of NATO. As of 1948, the so-called Clandestine Committee of the Western Union (CCWU) united senior officers of European military secret services in order to coordinate secret anticommunist warfare. This was incorporated into the NATO command structure.

In the wake of the 1978 kidnapping and assassination of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro, Italian Judge Felice Casson discovered documents on Operation Gladio (The sword) in the archives of the Italian military secret service in Rome and forced Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti to confirm to parliament the existence of an anti-communist secret army within the state. Moreover, it came to light that Henry Kissinger had been informed and consented to this assassination. Coordinated by NATO, the Gladio units were run by the European military secret services in close cooperation with the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British foreign Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, also MI6).


“In neighbouring Spain, which similar to Portugal during most of the Cold War had been a right-wing dictatorship which fought the political opposition with terror and torture, Alberto Oliart, Defence Minister in the early 1980s, considered it to be ‘childish’ to ask whether also under dictator Franco a secret right-wing army had existed in the country because ‘here Gladio was the government’.”

The main operational officials of this network (in other words were ex-officials of the Nazis and their collaborators. While it is known that SS captain and head of the Gestapo in Lyon in France, Klaus Barbie, became the official representative of the stay-behind network in Bolivia working against Che Guevara, it is less known, for example, that the Police Prefect for Paris, the Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon, who commanded the massacre of more than one hundred Algerians on 17 October 1961, was one of the leaders of the network in France, working against the FLN. (Daniele Ganser, La guerre secrète en FranceRéseau Voltaire, 18 April 2011.)

12. On 22 May 1974 a department of Navy riflemen belonging to the new government broke into Rua des Pracas 13 in Lisbon, at the offices of the Aginter Press. A huge archive was discovered with documents and microfilms concerning every country in the world, a workshop for the supply of false documents with visas and stamps of the main European countries, a recruitment and training centre for mercenaries, as well as the names of the referents of an international fascist organization called Ordre et Tradition and its military arm Oaci (Organization d’action contre le communisme international).

“Our number consists of two types of men: (1) Officers who have come to us from the fighting in Indo-China and Algeria, and some who even enlisted with us after the battle for Korea.” Aginter Director Guerin Serac further described that the anti-communist secret army included; (2) “Intellectuals who, during this same period turned their attention to the study of the techniques of Marxist subversion.” These intellectuals, as Guerin Serac observed, had formed study groups and shared experiences “in an attempt to dissect the techniques of Marxist subversion and to lay the foundations of a counter-technique.” The battle, it was clear to Guerin Serac, had to be carried out in numerous countries: “During this period we have systematically established close contacts with like-minded groups emerging in Italy, Belgium, Germany, Spain or Portugal, for the purpose of forming the kernel of a truly Western League of Struggle against Marxism.” (quoted in Ganser)

A document entitled “Our political action”, seized at the headquarters of the Lisbon agency, dated by the Italian judiciary of the late 1960s, explicitly summarizes the ambitions of the Aginter press – Order and Tradition in Europe:

“We believe that the first part of our political action must be to favor the installation of chaos in all the structures of the regime […]. In our opinion, the first action we must initiate is the destruction of state structures, under cover of the action of Communists and pro-Chinese, we have elements infiltrated in all these groups […] ]. This will create a feeling of antipathy towards those who threaten the peace of each and the nation, and on the other hand, it will undermine the national economy. From this state of affairs, we must go into action within the framework of the army, the judiciary, the Church in order to act on the public opinion and to indicate a solution and to counter the deficiency and the incapacity of the constituted legal apparatus.” (54 CoM, Aginter Press archives Envelope n o 2 “Programma politico”, “Our policy action.” See here.)

The activities of Aginter Press in Portugal were halted by the revolution of 225 April 1974. The agency staff left Lisbon, moving to Spain and Venezuela. They were provided with French passports – according to some data, with the approval of the curator of the African policy of France, Jacques Fokkar. Despite the formal termination of operations, the staff and operational technologies of Aginter Press remained active until the early 1980s.

On Aginter, see Frédéric Laurent and Nina Sutton, L’Orchestre Noir, Paris: Editions Stock, 1978; Frédéric Laurent and Nina Sutton, “The Assassination of Eduardo Mondlane,” in Ellen Ray, William Schaap, Karl Van Meter, and Louis Wolf ed., Dirty Work 2: The CIA in Africa, London: Zed Press, 1980; Pauline Picco, Liaisons dangereuses. Les extrêmes droites en France et en Italie (1960-1984), Rennes University Press, 2018, especially Chapter V. The Aginter press: OAS networks, counter-subversion and terrorism, pp. 129-155. The complete book is online.

On Otto Skorzeny, see Martin A. Lee, The Beast Reawakens, New York: Little, Bron and Co., 1997, pp  183-190.

13. Captain Robert H. Thomas, RCN, Ret’d, “HMCS Assiniboine and the 1974 Portuguese Coup or ‘Where was this covered in command exams?’”

14. Robert A. Manning, “A South Atlantic Pact in the Making,” Southern Africa, April, 1977, 32-130-A46-84-al.sff.document.nusa197704.pdf

15. The recently-formed Inter-Empresas labour centre was not convinced. Nor were thousands of other workers. A principal chant by the 40,000 demonstrators, marching through the centre of the city, passing the US Embassy, was directed against the presence of the NATO fleet. As they passed the American Cultural Centre the demonstrators shouted loud and clear: “Out with NATO, out with CIA.” NATO troops in uniform were refused permission to land, most of them having to spend the week on their ships.

“The PCP (Portuguese Communist Party) attacked the proposed demonstration viciously, comparing it to the activities of the ‘silent majority’ on September 28. The PCP then organised a ‘carnival’ for the same day, which was a traditional holiday. Inter-Empresas remained firm. It reiterated its call or cople to demonstrate both against NATO and against the high level of redundancies. ‘We cannot separate redundancies from imperialism. The question of redundancies is not a question of bad management. It is the direct result of a system – the capitalist system – supported by imperialism. We cannot allow NATO, the shock troops of imperialism, quietly to land on our soil’.” (Phil Mailer, Portugal – The Impossible Revolution? London: Solidarity, 1977, pp. 78-79)

16. In Brazil, General António de Spínola founded the Democratic Movement for the Liberation of Portugal on 5 May 1975. The MDLP was structured according to the conspiracy principle of secret cells. For his part, having relocated to Spain, Yves Guerin-Serak of Aginter collaborated with the Portuguese Liberation Army, planning a civil war against the government.

With the support of the Catholic Church (receiving funds from the US church), the MDLP conducted public events and published its own magazine. At the same time, the organization led the preparation for a military coup and practiced violent methods of struggle. MDLP activists led peasant attacks on the communist representative offices in the northern villages.

In the summer-autumn of 1975 and in January 1976, a series of terrorist attacks were committed against the PCP and the “radical left”. In total, MDLP is credited with over 450 acts of violence – pogroms, arson, shelling, explosions, attacks. The targets of the attacks were, first of all, activists of the Communist Party and progressive organizations. Two Cuban diplomats died in an explosion at the embassy in Lisbon. On 29 April 1976, Gen Spínola announced the dissolution of the MDLP as the political process returned to the political order of pluralism, neo-liberalism and NATO. In August 1976, António de Spínola returned to Portugal.

17. The operation of terrorist forces (“nationalists”) active in the coup d’état in Ukraine in February 2014, who were trained at NATO bases in Estonia beginning in 2006 (pictured below), has raised legitimate questions and concerns as to whether or not Gladio continues to date.

In 1996, the Belgian newspaper Le Soir revealed the existence of a racist plan operated by the military intelligence agencies. In 1999, Switzerland was suspected of again creating a clandestine paramilitary structure, allegedly to replace the former P26 and P27 (the Swiss branches of Gladio). Furthermore, in 2005, the Italian press revealed the existence of the Department of Anti-terrorism Strategic Studies (DSSA), accused of being “another Gladio.”

Despite appearances, these stories are not as old as all that – the world of imperialist politics still hosts personalities who were part of the stay-behind network. For example, the current President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, was the head of Gladio in Luxembourg. (Gladio-Luxembourg : Juncker contraint de démissionnerRéseau Voltaire, 10 July 2013.)

18. On 5 November 1975 Cuba responded to an urgent appeal from the MPLA government for military assistance to repel the South African troops. Cuba initiated Operation Carolota – named after a woman leader of a Cuban revolt against slavery in the 1830s – sending Cuban troops and weapons. In February-March, 1976 the South African troops were defeated and forced to leave Angola. Over the next 15 years more than 300,000 Cubans – of all ages and professions, men and women, white and black – volunteered to help defend Angola from repeated invasions from South Africa. Volunteers included doctors, teachers, engineers and construction workers who lent their energies and expertise to Angola’s efforts to overcome the legacy of colonial domination, in the midst of Western-condoned South Africa intervention and sabotage.

19. Due to the activation of the working class, the Portuguese revolution began to get out of control, requiring a colossal effort to channel it back to the vested interests behind it. The US had seriously misread and underestimated the coup, and feared the loss of the Azores and the Iberian Peninsula – the “soft underbelly of Europe” – through the influence of the revolution on Franco Spain. Interestingly, as Wikileaks cables revel, it did not fear the collaborationist leadership of Álvaro Cunhal of the Portuguese Communist Party, whose cadre had been the main force fighting fascism. There was not even a historical socialist party and it had to be invented.

The USA financed the opposition media, opposition political parties and candidates who were little-known and attacked the new government in its media. The ubiquitous Gen. Vernon Walters of the CIA (Deputy Director 1972-76), a polygot fluent in Portuguese and Spanish, was in Lisbon on 17 August 1974. He met with, among others, the Atlanticist Mário Soares, whose anti-fascist credentials were as a lawyer in Paris filing writs of habeas corpus; he became a CIA asset. Marcello Caetano, the deposed former prime minister of Portugal, and his cohorts of the old regime were eventually sequestered in Lusophone Brazil and Argentina, followed by Gen. António de Spínola and his cohorts, known as the “Spínola circle.”

The social democratic party was the preferred counter weight for the transition. In this regard, the operation of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung of the German Social Democratic Party (each German political party had its own foundation), which had been enriched by CIA funds in the 1950s to establish the bipartisan system, shows the subversive role of the imperialist NGO’s, think tanks and foundations. Philip Agee, who in 1975 published the names of 16 CIA agents in Lisbon, writes,

“In 1974, when the fifty-year-old fascist regime was overthrown in Portugal, a NATO member, communists and left-wing military officers took charge of the government. At that time the Portuguese social democrats, known as the Socialist Party, could hardly have numbered enough for a poker game, and they all lived in Paris (Mário Soares) and had no following in Portugal. Thanks to at least $10 million from the Ebert Stiftung plus funds from the CIA, the social democrats came back to Portugal, built a party overnight, saw it mushroom, and within a few years the Socialist Party became the governing party of Portugal. The left was relegated to the sidelines in disarray.” (Philip Agee, “Terrorism and Civil Society: The Instruments of US Policy in Cuba.” August 9, 2003)

James Lawler, the CIA Deputy Chief of Station in Lisbon, had engaged in just such operations in Brazil (in 1962) and in Chile (in 1964) where many millions of dollars were spent by the CIA to promote the election of the US-approved “moderates, Agee informs. Morgan, the head of the CIA in Lisbon, learned these kinds of operations when he served in Venezuela (1966-1968) and in Brazil (1970-1973). (Philip Agee, “A Letter to the Portuguese People.” London, August 1975)

In short order, one of either General Costa Gomes (then president) or Soares (then foreign affair minister and later prime minister) met with Kissinger in Tunis (who then meets with Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt in Germany), promised the Americans an extension of the lease on the Lajes base in the Azores, asked for modern armaments from NATO and “aid” as ransom against the Eurocommunists, and Soares was elected vice-president of the Socialist International due to the influence of Willy Brandt, and despatched to Brazil. (Bernardino Gomes, Carlucci Versus KissingerTiago Moreira de Sá, pp. 64-65, Google Books) The role of the United States in undermining the revolution is further discussed by Pereira and Amaral and by Spanish journalist Alfredos Grimaldo in La CIA en España, Habana: 2007, an important work.

The US was so impressed by the work of the German foundations that the Reagan administration created the National Endowment for Democracy in 1983 as its preferred agency as the vehicle for “democracy promotion.” The West German political foundations provided the model that the “democracy program” took up to solve one of the main dilemmas of US foreign policy: how to “help” the parties, institutions and structures become “democratic and pluralistic” in countries governed by dictators who were allies and client states – and later in Eastern Europe. Thus, the one who puts Spain into NATO in 1986, based on the Portuguese model, is Felipe Gonzalez of the social democrat PSOE, following the death of Franco, after binding the opposition to the CIA as a way to gain power. Gonzalez was a known man of the American and German Social Democracy forever.

After the assault on the RALIS base, the Revolutionary Council met: Generals Otelo and Fabiao were relieved of all their posts. Lourenco was confirmed as Commander RML, COPCON (the military police) was dissolved. Eanes was appointed Chief of the Army. Commandos arrest nearly every COPCON staff officer.

The Revolutionary Council also decided:

‘That negotiations pending on the collective contracts will be suspended until 31 December while the government defines a new incomes policy to reduce the different excessive and uneven wage rises and to establish increases at a much lower level to take into account the economic realities and the rising of the cost of living.’

The settlements won by the building workers, dustmen and bakery workers in the previous weeks are cancelled. Now they have military control the right clearly show how they intend to use it.

On 28 November, the mop-up of dissident military bases continued until finally the remaining paratroopers surrendered at Tancos. The confidence of the right increased hourly. (Phil Mailer, Portugal – The Impossible Revolution?, London: Solidarity, 1977)

With files from Wikipedia, London Guardian, Invent the Future, South African History Online (Cape Town)

Related reading on this website

Anniversary of the birth of Amílcar Cabral

By Hakim Adi, September 12, 2020

The story of how Cuba helped to free Africa

By Isaac Saney, November 4, 2005



Filed under Africa, History

3 responses to “This Day. A reflection on Amílcar Cabral, Portugal and NATO

  1. Pingback: The Nazi who became an Israeli assassin | Tony Seed's Weblog

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  3. Pingback: Anniversary of the birth of Amílcar Cabral | Tony Seed's Weblog

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